The Vikings are parting ways with head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman, letting go of one of the longest-tenured members of their football department as new General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and coach Kevin O'Connell continue to build a different vision for the team.
Sugarman came to Minnesota from Philadelphia with Brad Childress in 2006, and built a strong relationship with General Manager Rick Spielman while working with the Vikings' next two head coaches, Leslie Frazier and Mike Zimmer.
Sugarman's profile rose after Adrian Peterson returned from a torn ACL to run for 2,097 yards and win NFL MVP honors in 2012, and he received widespread credit for his quick reaction to Teddy Bridgewater's catastrophic knee injury on Aug. 30, 2016, putting Bridgewater's left leg in an air cast when his knee dislocation put him at risk of losing his lower leg.
The Vikings promoted Sugarman to vice president of sports medicine in 2018. He became one of the NFL's first prominent figures to test positive for COVID-19 before the 2020 season, returning after a 10-day absence as he was set to begin two seasons of leading the team's response to the pandemic.
"I am tremendously grateful to the Vikings and the Wilf family for the opportunity to spend 16 years in Minnesota and am proud of our collective efforts to keep players healthy and at their peak performance during that time," Sugarman said in a statement. "With the added role of infection control officer over the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, I took very seriously the responsibility of extending that same level of care to all Vikings staff members."
Sugarman built a significant social media presence, gaining nearly 18,000 Twitter followers thanks to regular features like his Saturday morning donut club, where players gathered in the training room for a picture before eating the donuts they'd brought in from a local bakery.
He helped direct how the Vikings built their rehabilitation facilities when they moved into the sprawling Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center in Eagan in 2018, and was part of a leaguewide team that published a study of the NFL's COVID-19 contact tracing and mitigation measures after the 2020 season.
As the Vikings try to shift away from the "fear-based organization" linebacker Eric Kendricks talked about in January, though, a change in their training department seemed inevitable. Some players saw the athletic trainer as being closely aligned with management, sources have said, and felt pressure to return quickly from injury, fearful a longer absence would jeopardize their standing in the organization.
The Vikings' website still lists rehabilitation director Matt Duhamel, assistant head athletic trainer Rob Roche and assistant athletic trainers David Jantzi and Amanda DeKanick as part of the organization. The group figures to continue the Vikings' medical evaluations before next month's NFL draft, as Adofo-Mensah and O'Connell determine their next moves at the top of the training department.
"We appreciate Eric's commitment to the Minnesota Vikings organization and Vikings players over the past 16 seasons," co-owner Mark Wilf said in a statement. "Along with being the head athletic trainer, over the last two years Eric worked tirelessly as the team's infection control officer to keep players, coaches and staff safe throughout the COVID-19 pandemic."